Qatar crisis: shipping scrambles for alternative routes

The world’s major shipping lines are frantically looking for alternative routes into and out of Qatar following the tightening of GCC trade restrictions on the country.
An unprecedented number of container ships are stuck at anchor due to the disruption to the region's shipping services.
An unprecedented number of container ships are stuck at anchor due to the disruption to the region's shipping services.

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The world’s major shipping lines are frantically looking for alternative routes into and out of Qatar following the tightening of an economic blockade on the country.

On Tuesday DP World and Abu Dhabi Ports announced that, in line with the UAE government’s directives, they would be barring entry to all Qatar-flagged vessels; all those departing to and arriving from Qatar, regardless of flag; and all vessels loaded with freight destined for or leaving Qatar, including transiting cargo.

The UAE is home to DP World operated Jebel Ali Port, the primary transhipment hub of the region (80% of all cargo in Jebel Ali is re-exported to the GCC), and is one of Qatar’s primary feeder routes.

Only two mainliner services call at Doha Port, the Ocean Alliance’s MEA2 and MSC’s Falcon, but both also call at Jebel Ali and the Saudi port of Dammam. MSC and the Ocean Alliance members cant afford to drop these port calls purely to serve Doha.

MSC and Maersk (the lead shipping line in the Ocean Alliance) declined to comment, but a spokesperson for Maersk indicated that they were actively seeking alternative feeder hubs at which to drop off Qatari cargo, such as Oman’s Sohar Port and Salalah Port.

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According to shipping analysts Alphaliner, this is the most likely scenario as Maersk Line is a shareholder in Salalah Port. It is also expected that Milaha, the main shipping line in Qatar, will transfer its Doha feeder services to ports in Kuwait and Oman.

Milaha runs four regional services connecting Qatar with ports throughout the Gulf, deploying 11 vessels of 500-2,800 teu.

The situation remain extremely fluid, however, and it is likely that Oman and Kuwait, also members of the GCC, may in the coming days fall in line with the UAE and Saudi Arabia and ban Qatari cargo from their ports.

For this reason none of the shipping lines or logistics companies ASC.com has spoken to are prepared to comment publicly.

COSCO and Maersk Line, however, both released media advisories Wednesday indicating that they were trying to organise alternative sea routes to the country.

“We have temporarily closed bookings for cargo from rest of the world that tranship over Jebel Ali to and from Qatar. We are working on alternative solutions to ensure movement of your cargo in compliance with above guidelines.”

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